Children learn from their environment
If the child’s caregivers are chronically expressing their emotions in a stressful, chaotic or violent way, and engaging in domestic violence, the child will begin to take on these behaviors as a way to manage their own emotions as well.
How Children Think
Children also tend to internalize the things they see hear and feel. Children internalize these behaviors and messages from their environment because they are egocentric by nature. Everything is about them, not because they are trying to be narcissistic, but because they have not yet effectively developed the ability to take perspective of other people’s feelings or needs.
A young child often begins their sentences with “I want”… “I want a cookie” or “I want to go play”. They are also completely dependent on their caregivers for basic human needs such as food, clothing, shelter, safety and love. Again, it’s all about them.
How Children Process
So, the child who witnesses domestic violence will begin to internalize those feelings of shame, guilt, and fear. The child will assume (since everything else is about them) that the violence they witness or receive is their fault, they begin to view themselves as a “bad” child and that they must be the reason for this violence and chaos.
Domestic violence sends messages of shame, guilt, and fear to the victim.
When children are stressed and overwhelmed with fear, they enter survival mode. This does not allow them to focus on other things such as school, having healthy relationships and learning other important social skills and can result in behavioral issues. The child then often gets labeled as a bad or difficult child, which in turn validates the child’s egocentric thinking that all of this IS their fault.
They aren’t bad children and it isn’t their fault, they are behaving exactly as they should given their circumstances.